Knowshon Moreno has had many ups and downs in his brief NFL career. However, if he is to be the Denver Broncos’ answer at running back, there can’t be many downs.
Moreno, who had a terrible start to his NFL career, is finally on track. He ran for 224 yards in Week 12 against the New England Patriots, and he has 842 rushing yards in just 12 games. He also has 11 touchdowns and has yet to lose a fumble this year.
The turnover-prone Broncos have no other reliable running back, as there have been seven fumbles between backup running backs (including fumbled exchanges with quarterback Peyton Manning). They need someone to be their rock and be trusted with the ball.
That person is Moreno.
His solid average of 4.2 yards per carry (even with lots of late-game carries in obvious running situations), his reliability, his consistency and his hard running style has greatly benefited the Broncos this year. It should be enough to net him a new contract after this season, when the former first-round pick’s rookie contract will expire.
If the Broncos are going to re-sign him, they would have to be sure that he isn't going to be a one-hit wonder. He had little success before the 2013 season, and it’s fair to wonder whether he can sustain this. In 2012, his second-best season, he had nice numbers on the surface, but his average of 3.8 yards per carry was well below average.
Additionally, from 2009-2011, he didn't handle much of a workload and didn't impress in his limited time.
That also raises concerns about his durability. The Broncos are giving plenty of action to backup Montee Ball to rest Moreno for the playoffs, which shows that Denver doesn't trust Moreno to hold up.
However, against the Patriots, fumbling woes from the backups left Moreno as the lone back. So, he carried the ball nearly 40 times, and he was amazing.
Moreno handled the grind of the Patriots game well, but it remains to be seen whether he can hold up year in, year out as the top back. Denver can’t trust Ball, Ronnie Hillman or C.J. Anderson, and if it doesn’t prioritize signing a reliable backup this offseason, Moreno could be forced to touch the ball too much.
And if he doesn’t hold up, it could ruin Denver’s investment.
However, with a short-term deal, those concerns wouldn’t be huge factors. If Moreno signs a short contract and stays healthy, he could do to Denver what Terrell Davis did in the late 1990s. Davis won a Super Bowl MVP and ran for 2,000 yards, providing John Elway a talented, trustworthy running option to balance the offense.
Moreno is definitely not as talented as Davis, but he has done and will continue to do a similar thing for Manning. He is a perfect complement to a lethal passing attack, as he is athletic and strong enough to rip a big run if the box is emptied and, much more importantly, trustworthy enough to hold the ball.
The trust factor is extremely important because the great Manning’s career will end soon, and the Broncos can’t throw an unreliable rookie into the fire. It’s imperative to protect the ball to let Manning work his magic, and rookies can’t be expected to do that. Even Moreno had fumbling issues earlier in his career.
Those bumps in the road can be overlooked by rebuilding teams looking for a star, but not the ultimate win-now team. If Denver were to let Moreno go and draft a back, it would counter everything else the team has done lately.
It has signed many players, like Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Wes Welker and Shaun Phillips, to short-term deals. Denver isn’t looking to build stars through lengthy processes. It wants to sign capable veterans to shorter deals to win during Manning’s brief tenure, and if Moreno were willing to agree to a short-term deal for the possibility of winning a championship, the Broncos should definitely pounce.
After all, even if the Broncos were to go to the draft, it’s not as if it would automatically result in success. The Broncos picked Hillman over Alfred Morris in the 2012 draft, and they took Ball instead of Eddie Lacy in the 2013 draft.
Their drafting hasn’t been great, so it’s not guaranteed that the next Davis would wind up in Denver if the Broncos choose that route.
Another route Denver could choose is signing another running back, but there aren’t many available. A list of the top impending free agents was made by nfltraderumors.com, and the top running back, Maurice Jones-Drew (who would likely cost more for his past success and has a terrible average of 3.2 yards per carry), was a mere 45th on the list.
So, it’s safe to say there aren’t ample good free-agent running back options.
That means the best route is signing Moreno to a two or three-year deal. Drafting a running back could help Denver down the road, but just a good running game isn’t what leads to success (just ask Adrian Peterson).
Denver can try for the big play in the draft after Manning retires, but for now, Moreno is plenty. He isn’t a sexy option, but he is cheap, reliable and a perfect fit in Denver. He might not be when Manning departs, but for now, he's perfect.
Because when you have a defense loaded with talent, Manning and some of the league’s best receivers, the cheaper Moreno is plenty at running back.